Maybe what we need is a blast of the Eighties, and why not from one of the great hairbands of its day—The Cure? Robert Smith’s birthday is today and since we were born the same year that means the dude is a bit ahead of me, here in the mid-fifties.
In 1985, when this song was a hit, The Cure had managed to corner a certain youthful energy—we were under 30 then, y’know—and what’s more I was hearing this song in college. It went well with the youths all about, as it seemed to crib from the popular sound that New Order had perfected around 1983. I was not a major fan of either New Order or The Cure, but more of the latter. I remember being struck by some of the songs on Boys Don’t Cry (1980) but didn’t jump on that particular train. Then, next thing I knew, they were all over college radio stations with “Let’s Go to Bed,” a song that was perfect for that, then. My friend Harvey, who compiled tapes of songs taped from the radio, laid that one on me.
Next came The Top (1984), which may still be my favorite album by The Cure, even though—or maybe because?—it’s mainly a Robert Smith solo outing. It was not a runaway hit, but The Head on the Door, from which “In Between Days” is the lead-off song, did much better. And why not? This song is so infectious with all that the Eighties brought to the table—that crisp, disco-inflected drumming and those popping synths. But also, and that’s what makes me like this song, the strumming acoustic that had become the signature sound of the band of the Eighties (for me), R.E.M.
So this song sort of combines the best of all those worlds. What’s more, the song’s lyrics suit that feeling, common to the college years, where people come and go so easily. You might take a class and see the same people every week for a whole semester, then not see them much again. Or people you got to know graduate before you, and all that. “Go on, go on, just walk away / Go on, go on, your choice is made.” That used to put some spring in my step back then when I liked to think that I had made some kind of “choice” and it was guiding my footsteps to the Next Thing.
But it’s also true—for me in 1985—that I had made a few big decisions, but that, at 26, one realized that youth (up to 25, I guess) was now past: “Yesterday I got so old / I felt like I could die.” At 54, it’s easy to sneer at that reflection but it was true. Mid-twenties is when you really start reflecting on “growing old” because it suddenly becomes apparent that what you thought would go on forever—youth—is finite. It’s easy to see that when the next wave of twenty-somethings starts showing up.
Then there’s all that “come back, come back to me” stuff, which is aimed at someone who’s walking out, apparently, but it can also be a call to youth—or at least the energy and inspiration that are the common currency of youth, and “I know it was wrong when I said it was true / That it couldn’t be me and be her / In between without you.” There I think it’s fair to assume the “you” isn’t necessarily a person. I guess it could be, if it’s about me, her and you (well, why not?), but to me what’s at stake is being “in between”—which is what mid-twenties feels like, alright—where “you” is a kind of saving grace. Get that back and it will all be hunky dory.
Smith got it back for a run there, culminating, for me, with 1989’s Disintegration. I was more of an Echo & The Bunnymen fan but they cashed it in in 1987, and Talking Heads was done by 1988. The Cure emerged strong at the end of the decade and then, in 1992, put out an album, Wish, that was just what was needed for those of us graying into our early thirties. More on that anon, I suppose.
I kept up till The Cure in 2004 but that seemed a rather unprepossessing album, so I’ll say the last hurrah for me was Bloodflowers in 2000, even caught that tour and so the dense sound, live, they had mastered by then. But all that is later; for now, let’s say happy birthday, Robert, and recall those days of being in between and when that hair was at its height.